From Jealousy to Slavery

Joseph Part 2

Genesis 37:12-36

1c7cy8.jpgI recently watched Screen Junkies’ Honest Trailer for the Pixar film Toy Story. What I love about the Honest Trailer series is how they open the eyes of the audience to the complex themes woven within films – particularly kids films. The plot revolves around two main characters, Woody and Buzz. Woody, an old-fashioned stuffed cowboy, is Andy’s favourite toy. Woody has been the main hero in Andy’s playtime stories for years. He even has his name written on the bottom of his boot. Everyone is enjoying a toy utopia until Woody is replaced with Buzz. Buzz, in contrast to Woody, is a state of the art plastic Space Ranger, complete with pop-out wings and a laser gun. He immediately takes centre stage in Andy’s games and, like Woody, gets Andy’s name written on his boot. The film then wrestles with Woody being replaced by someone who doesn’t appreciate what it is like to be the main recipient of Andy’s affections. Woody’s jealousy grows and he sees himself going from the hero in the story to being the villain. Eventually, he tries to get rid of Buzz but instead, they both become lost and so they must work together to find a way home. The film highlights a very real human problem; jealousy.

In Genesis 37: 11 we see the beginnings of a root growing in the hearts of these men. By the time we arrive in Genesis 37:11 the roots of the jealousy plant have gone deep, and it has become carnivorous.

Have you ever been shocked by your own words or actions? Occasionally I catch myself doing something less than ideal and wonder, “why on earth did I do that?” Perhaps It’s a lie that ‘fell out’ of our mouths in a moment of tension, or maybe a word or two shared in anger. We can notice these things if we’re lucky enough to have a friend who can be honest with us, or if we’ve made any time for self-reflection. But often we can end up walking so far down a road we forget where the path began, or even that we have change course at all. The writer of the Hebrews talks about the risk of a “bitter root” growing within the Church which risks defiling many (Hebrews 12:15). The “bitter root” is a metaphor for that which could bring harm to the Church. This could be idolatry, various temptations, hunger for power/influence, or indeed jealousy. The metaphor works because it is exactly what happens when unwanted plants are left to their own business in a garden. Currently, I am going mad with weed killer trying to take back the control of the garden I lost whilst busy over the summer. It is hard work because these plants have grown big and now their roots go deep.

This is what we see in the lives of Joseph’s Brothers, with one notable exception. In Genesis 37: 11 we see the beginnings of a root growing in the hearts of these men. By the time we arrive in Genesis 37:11 the roots of the jealousy plant have gone deep, and it has become carnivorous. Joseph is sent by his Father to find his Brothers and report back that everything is OK. When they see him in the distance, they say to themselves:

19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. 20 “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.” (Genesis 37:19-20)

It is amazing to see how fast the Brothers came to agree murder was a reasonable response to the appearance of Joseph in the distance. Their action does not appear in a moment of anger or frustration. Their decision seems to be measured, considered, reasoned and reasonable to almost everyone present. The atmosphere is calm, despite the heinous plot. We can conclude this because after the affair is settled, the Brothers casually sit down to eat lunch together presumably with Josephs screams still echoing in the distance (Genesis 37: 25). They also have the audacity to present their Father with Joseph’s bloody cloak and watch his heart break before their eyes.

Having stripped him of his precious cloak, his dignity, and dropping him onto the hard floor of an empty cistern, they decide to strip him again, this time of his freedom (Genesis 37:27).

1stTempleCisternJerus.jpg

A 10th century BC cistern discovered in Jerusalem.

Thankfully due to Reuben, who was the one notable voice of descent in an otherwise unanimous bloodthirsty chorus, Joseph is alive. Rather than plunging a knife into him, he convinced his brothers to drop him in an empty cistern instead. Joseph is trapped, but not for long. Judah, seeing a caravan of Ishmaelites in the distance, decides to further humiliate Joseph. Having stripped him of his precious cloak, his dignity, and dropping him onto the hard floor of an empty cistern, they decide to strip him again, this time of his freedom (Genesis 37:27). They are not doing this for the money. Twenty shekels is nothing, especially split between eleven sons. The real ‘gain’ for them is seeing the pleasure of seeing a Brother destined to rule over them becoming a slave. They conclude as much in their initial plan, “Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams” (Genesis 37:20).

 

By the end of the betrayal, a Father’s heart is broken and he has become inconsolable. Joseph himself is sold off to the Egyptian official Potiphar, where the next stage of his journey begins. But Joseph isn’t the only one who is enslaved by the end of the narrative. The Brothers have shown themselves have become completely bound to the point of enslavement to jealousy. Heart issues that go unchecked lead to actions that would previously be unthinkable. The Brothers see themselves go from the slighted heroes to cold-blooded killers, villains in their own story, and they don’t even seem to be aware of it. Can we become so numb to sin, so detached from God, that we become enslaved to evil?

By the end of the narrative, everyone is set free. Joseph is set free from Egypt, and his Brothers find forgiveness for what they have done. This is but an echo of the same offer God makes to each one of us.

In Romans 6:19-23, Paul talks about two kinds of slavery, the “slavery to sin” which produces death (here in the Joseph narrative, nearly literally), and slavery “to God.” Josephs brothers are enslaved to sin, in particularly jealousy. As a result, they seek to kill, and in one sense, sin is its own reward. In becoming slaves they have lost the freedom that comes through living a righteous life for God. They are enslaved by their desires, incapable of making good decisions and living in that kind of freedom. In contrast, Joseph is enslaved by the Egyptians, but he remains a slave to God. Everywhere he goes he serves God impeccably, and although he is in chains right now, he is free to be the man God created him to be. Which would you prefer?

The wonder of this story is that no chains are too strong to resist the liberation God has in store for both Joseph and his Brothers. By the end of the narrative, everyone is set free. Joseph is set free from Egypt, and his Brothers find forgiveness for what they have done. This is but an echo of the same offer God makes to each one of us. Are you enslaved in chains right now? Are you trapped in some sense, perhaps in a dark and hopeless situation? Well God can bring physical liberation to you, even today. And if your chains are more akin to the Brother’s slavery to sin, God has the key to unlocking you from captivity here too. Full forgiveness, complete with a new life. No sin is too great to be forgiven. There is nothing that impresses God so, that His sacrifice cannot wash over and make us clean.

Why not recommit yourself in service to God today?

Luke

 

 

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